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Nov. 7, 2022

Elsie Robinson


As a girl born in 1883 to a family who couldn’t afford to send her to college, Elsie Robinson had limited options. To escape the drudgery of small-town life and then a stifling marriage, Elsie wrote. And wrote. And wrote. When her asthmatic son was home sick from school, she wrote and illustrated stories to entertain him. When she needed to make money to support herself and her son after her divorce, she wrote again. Eventually, her prolific writing caught the attention of the Hearst media empire, and Elsie became the most-read woman writer in America and the highest-paid woman writer in the Hearst organization. But today, few people remember Elsie Robinson or her writing.

Joining me to help us learn more about Elsie Robinson is writer Allison Gilbert, co-author of Listen, World!: How the Intrepid Elsie Robinson Became America's Most-Read Woman

Our theme song is Frogs Legs Rag, composed by James Scott and performed by Kevin MacLeod, licensed under Creative Commons. The episode image is “Elsie Robinson, writer and columnist,” from the San Francisco Examiner, available via the Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley, and in the Public Domain.

 

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Transcript

Kelly Therese Pollock  0:00  
This is Unsung History, the podcast where we discuss people and events in American history that haven't always received a lot of attention. I'm your host, Kelly Therese Pollock. I'll start each episode with a brief introduction to the topic, and then talk to someone who knows a lot more than I do. Be sure to subscribe to Unsung History on your favorite podcasting app, so you never miss an episode. And please, tell your friends, family, neighbors, colleagues, maybe even strangers to listen too.

Today we're discussing writer Elsie Robinson. Elsie Robinson was born on April 30, 1883, in Benicia, California, then a frontier town about 30 miles north of San Francisco. Elsie was the third of five children born to Elizabeth and Alexander Robinson. As a kid, Elsie bristled against the restrictive norms of dress and behavior for girls; and she escaped into reading. Elsie's parents, themselves both voracious readers, didn't censor her reading materials. Elsie also wrote, later noting, "As early as I can remember, I wrote, not with any idea of being a writer. I was trying to get something out of me, which I could release in no other way. After it was done, I showed the thing to nobody, just threw it away. The fun was over. When I wasn't writing, I drew, for the same reason, groping at something, trying to make it on my own.And all the time I was speculating, trying to understand what this strange performance was all about. Why were people what they were?" Elsie's older siblings, Paul and Winifred were sent to college; but when it was Elsie's turn, the family no longer had the funds to send her.

When she graduated high school in June, 1900, there was really only one future available to her: marriage. It was then that Elsie met wealthy widower Christie B. Crowell, a friend of her pastor, who was visiting California from Vermont, as he recovered from the death of his first wife. Christie was 10 years older than Elsie, and from a different world. But they started courting, and Christie asked Elsie to marry him. Elsie's parents were thrilled with the match; but Christie's parents were not. They agreed to the marriage on one condition. Elsie had to spend a year at a boarding school in Massachusetts, Northfield Seminary, where she could learn household management and other skills that would make her a good New England wife. After taking the train across the country, Elsie started at Northfield, where she was miserable. She didn't have anywhere else to go. Her one escape was using her little free time to write fiction. As she later said, "I started writing for exactly the same reason that a starving man starts eating: to save my life." Marrying Christie was no escape. From the start of their marriage, he was aloof and kept away from Elsie. In 1904, Elsie gave birth to their first and only child, a son named George, who was finally someone with whom Elsie could be affectionate. George suffered from severe asthma, and Elsie desperately wanted to return to California for his health. But Christie would not leave Vermont. George loved to read, and when he was home sick, which was often, Elsie started writing and illustrating stories for him. Elsie also started illustrating for a man named Robert Wallace, who was a mason like Christie, and who was writing children's books. In 1912, Robert decided to move to California, and Elsie and George traveled with him, leaving Christie behind. Elsie hadn't said that she wasn't returning to Vermont, but she didn't intend to return; and that became more clear over the years. Christie came to visit California in 1915, but he was still unwilling to move. In fall of 1915, Elsie and George moved to Hornitos in central California, where Elsie found work in a gold mine. She worked there for three years, 600 feet underground, in order to support herself and George. At night, Elsie would continue to write using a typewriter given to her by Louella Rogers, the Black postmistress of the Hornitos post office, who became Elsie's close friend while she lived there. While there, Elsie tried to publish a piece in Atlantic Monthly. While they didn't publish the story, they did connect her to an agent who managed to place her story in a magazine. In 1916, Christie finally asked Elsie for a divorce so that he could remarry. With the beginning of World War I, came the closing of the mine where Elsie worked, and she and George moved back to San Francisco, where Elsie tried to find work with little success. Finally, she decided to return to writing stories for kids; and in 1918, she convinced the managing editor of the Oakland Tribune to hire her to write and illustrate columns for kids, which quickly became so successful that they gave her an entire weekly section. Children loved Aunt Elsie, and they joined Aunt Elsie clubs around the country. The Oakland Tribune realized that Elsie might be a hit with adults too, and they had her write homemaking and advice columns. In January, 1921, she launched the column whose syndication turned her into a national figure, "Listen, World!" where she spoke out against such things as gender inequality, racism, and anti-semitism. And she illustrated the accompanying political cartoons. Elsie managed all of this prolific writing without an assistant. In 1923, the William Randolph Hearst-owned San Francisco Call and Post wooed Elsie away from the Oakland Tribune, with the generous salary of $95 a week, to a woman who just years earlier had been struggling to feed herself and her child. Around this time, George started college, where he majored in mechanical engineering, worked on the school newspaper, and joined the drama club. In 1924, Arthur Brisbane, editor of the Hearst-run New York Journal, offered Elsie a contract for $20,000 a year, the equivalent today of $335,000, to syndicate "Listen, World!" making her the highest paid newswoman in the Hearst organization. In 1926, tragedy struck when George became ill with the flu, which was too much for his lungs, weakened by a lifetime of asthma. And after 19 days in the hospital, he died at age 21. Elsie kept writing the column but she did ask for two things. She wanted help with her correspondence, and she wanted to work remotely from her cabin in Sonora. Her requests were granted. In 1933, Elsie married for a third time. She had been briefly married to a neighbor after George's death. Her third husband was construction engineer, Benton Fremont, who was five years younger than Elsie, and whose seven year old son gave Elsie a second chance at motherhood. In 1934, Elsie published her memoir called, "I Wanted Out," serialized over seven issues in Cosmopolitan magazine. The New York Times called the memoir "deeply touching" and the Washington Post called it "brutally frank." In February, 1942, Elsie suffered from a fall, in which she broke both hips. It was the first time in over 20 years that her column was paused. After two months, Elsie returned to writing the column, although the fall left her with lasting injuries. On September 8, 1956, Elsie, died at age 73, of hypertensive heart disease. She had pre-written so many columns that they continued to run for two months after she died. Joining me now, to help us learn more about Elsie Robinson is writer Allison Gilbert, co-author of "Listen, World! How the Intrepid Elsie Robinson Became America's Most Read Woman." That biography is the source for much of this introduction, and it is there that I found the included quotes from Elsie Robinson. But first here is Elsie's advice to anyone complaining about being stuck in the same old rut. "No matter how poor you are, or how burdened, how ignorant or obscure, there's one thing you can do, which will fill your days with new excitement, and your heart with new eagerness, and blast your boredom to smithereens. You can write a column. Anyone can write a column. It doesn't require special education, nor special preparation or position to write a column. Anyone anywhere can write a column out of the common makings of their daily life. All that is needed is a willingness to turn from yourself. Forget yourself entirely, and think of the other fellow, seeing him as he really is, and his problems as they really are. Will a publisher accept your column? Probably not. But that's not the point. If you turn columnist, you'll find something far more precious than cash. You'll find escape and healing for a bound embittered soul."  Hi, Allison, thanks so much for joining me today.

Allison Gilbert  12:25  
Oh, I am so happy to be here. Thank you so much.

Kelly Therese Pollock  12:28  
Yeah, I was delighted to learn about Elsie Robinson, so I'm thrilled that you wrote this book. I wanted to ask if you could talk a little bit about the inspiration. I know you had found a poem in your mother's belongings, and I wanted to hear a little bit about that, and how that got you interested in Elsie Robinson.

Allison Gilbert  12:45  
Yeah, so nearly 30 years ago, I lost my mom. She had been sick for quite some time with ovarian cancer. I had recently-ish graduated college and I was going back to my childhood home to pack it up. And my job that day, my brother and I were dividing and conquering, but my job that day was to clean out and pack up her books. And I was just having a really difficult time making haste of that job. I was going through every page, I was seeing what she had annotated, I was looking at her handwriting one more time, I was bouncing those books on my knees, so to speak, to see what came out of those pages and fell to the floor. And lo and behold, something did in fact fall out of one of those books. And it was a piece of paper that my mom had re-typed a poem on. It was a piece of onion skin paper. Remember that old onion skin paper from so long ago? Well, it wasn't a part of the book. She had just folded it up and put it inside. And it was a poem called "Pain," PAIN, and it was the most tough love poem about grief I had ever read. Basically, the message was, "Be lucky, feel lucky that you had a mother worth missing." And it was attributed to someone named Elsie Robinson. And I just had to find out who she was. It was just the most perfect poem about grief I had ever read. And it hit me hard. And I just It set me on this path of really wanting to learn more about who this woman was.

Kelly Therese Pollock  14:48  
So talk to me then about the process of finding out who this woman is. You know, you can't just go back then there wasn't Wikipedia, but you couldn't just like go look up Wikipedia and say who's Elsie Robinson? And then you know, how do you start to identify, figure out the life of someone like that, who at one point was like a household name, but now has sort of dropped off our radars?

Allison Gilbert  15:11  
Yeah, well, that's the thing. You're right, she was a household name. She had more than 20 million readers. Just to put that number into context, that's double the number of current subscribers to the New York Times. She was a nationally syndicated columnist, writing for the most powerful publisher on the planet at that time, William Randolph Hearst, and so for her name to be just erased from the history books was shocking and sad, you know, all wrapped up in one little bow. And so, our job, I didn't do this alone, with my co-author, Julia Sheeres, we really needed to start from scratch. And as a biographer, your first job is to find out whether or not there are Elsie Robinson papers. And that's just a fancy way of saying is there any repository in this country that kept her columns, or some sort of  biographical sketch, or any photographs or any of her personal correspondence or professional correspondence between her, and let's say, her editors, which over time included her boss, William Randolph Hearst, himself. And there was no repository, there was no single library, or archive or institution that kept Elsie Robinson's work. And so our work was cut out for us.

Kelly Therese Pollock  16:47  
So what what did you do then? What was sort of the sort of steps that you took to try to uncover if it's not all in one place? Where do you go? How do you find it?

Allison Gilbert  16:56  
Well, it's really interesting, we got some great advice. You know, I belong to several wonderful groups. One is BIO, which is the Biographers International Organization. And I got some wonderful advice, which was to reverse engineer her life. In the case of a woman, back in the 19, teens, and 20s, and 30s, to the 1950s, it was to research through the men who employed her. So let's just let that sink in, just for a second. To research a woman's life, we had to go through the men who paid her to work for them. And so for us what that meant, as one example, was going to the Bancroft Library in California, and going through the archive of William Randolph Hearst. Now, there have been many biographies about Hearst, and buried within his archives was a treasure trove of Elsie Robinson material that other biographers looked over, passed through, disregarded, because they didn't know who Elsie Robinson was. But for us, it became a roadmap unlike any other. And so we found correspondence between Elsie Robinson and Hearst himself where she was demanding to get paid more, said that she was overworked and needed to have some time off, you know what we would call, even in this regard, "I want to work from home, I want to work remotely." Of course, she didn't have that vocabulary back then. But she didn't want to always go into the newsroom, either. And so I find that the letters that we found are really instructive to how women in particular need to advocate for themselves even today, no matter what your kind of work is. It doesn't have to be a newsroom or to be a writer. But Elsie gathered evidence for her success, demanded to be paid what she was worth, and I find the way she approached, even the multi millionaire, even the biggest boss on the planet in publishing back then, is incredibly enlightening.

Kelly Therese Pollock  19:39  
Yeah, yeah. No, I love the part about her wanting to work from home. And I was reading that and like, we keep saying, like, we need to return to the way things used to be. She used to work from home way back then.

Allison Gilbert  19:50  
Yes, yes. I mean, that was that letter that we're talking about now. That was from 1940.

Kelly Therese Pollock  19:56  
Yeah, I love that. So I want to talk a little bit about kind of where, where she comes from where this sort of spirit inside her came from. And I think that it, geography seems like such an important piece of her life, she seems to embody the west, you know, the this sort of spirit of independence of California where she grew up. And then she's sort of transplanted to the east and things don't go as well for her there. And it's not until she gets back to the west that she sort of is able to come back into her own. Could you talk a little bit about that that piece of of what is going on in her life and the way that sort of the the geography and her personality sort of all go together?

Allison Gilbert  20:37  
Definitely she is. It's such a great question, because Elsie Robinson writes a lot about how our childhood place, whether or not that's a home, or an apartment, or a town, or a village or a big city, how the way we grow up informs our world view and for her, growing up about 30 miles north of San Francisco, in this town called Benicia, California, which is a waterfront town. Back in her day in the late 1800s, It was a magnet for a very international population to come to its shores, because of trade, and because what the water allowed the visitors to come very fluent, you know, fluidly from beyond, you know, where she could see on the horizon and it formed her wanting to see and experience a bigger world. She wanted to experience it all. She wanted to feel it all. And so she felt constrained, because she saw that the world was a bigger place. And for women, in particular, back then, the restrictions were real. The expectations were few. It was meant for her to be, you know, graduate high school, get married, have kids, stay home. That was really what was really expected of her. But that to her was too constraining. She wanted a bigger life and Benicia, because she saw so much energy and vitality come to those shores, she wanted a part of that. She wanted a part of that bigger world and it really informed her entire adulthood of what she saw as being around the corner, around the bend, wanting to appear where women were told they couldn't go.

Kelly Therese Pollock  22:46  
Yeah, although ironically she she leaves, she escapes Benicia to go to somewhere that's more constraining, really. When she goes to Vermont, that not necessarily Vermont, but her life in Vermont is so constrained, is so sort of locked down in what she can do. Can you talk a little bit about her her marriage and how stifling it really was for her?

Allison Gilbert  23:09  
Yeah, so she leaves Benicia shortly after she graduates high school in 1900, and by 1903, she is married to a born and bred Vermonter. I'm not sure what you call, I think that's what you call a Vermonter. Someone who was very much of that Puritan New England mentality, very religious, not progressive, seeing that his ways of church and being a Freemason was really the way to live a bigger life in his view, and also his parents' view. They lived in in an enormous mansion in Brattleboro. It even had a name. That's how you know, it's pretentious, when it has a name. It was called Lindenhurst. And even though that world promised Elsie, for the rest of her life, is not having to really lift a finger, no hunger, nothing that she would ever want for herself and she eventually had a son. You can now know how constraining that life was, because no matter the opulence, it wasn't for her. She wanted to live a dynamic life that was bent on art, and illustration, and writing and culture. And none of that was embraced by her in laws, certainly not by her husband. And so as soon as she figured out that this life was actually going to be another form of suffocation, she bristled against that. And in 1912, she decided she'd had enough, and to live a bigger, more fulfilling life, she took a huge gamble, and she left.

Left to go somewhere where she certainly did not have ease, would experience hunger. So talk to me about this remarkable thing that she does, goes to California and is working in the mines.

Yeah, what she did, because she wanted to have this richer life, she tried to make a go of it in 1912, between 1912 and 1915. She tried to get freelance writing assignments. She had a little bit of success doing that back in Vermont, so she had a taste of it. And she just got a little bit, you know, she got a little, you know, what does that saying when you say a little bit over your skis, you know, she was a little bit too cocky and thought maybe she can just, you know, think she wanted to be a writer, so therefore, she would be a writer. She got a little bit over her skis, and so between 1912 and 1915, she really couldn't make ends meet. Her husband was not sending enough money. It didn't go very well. She was facing pockets of real desperation. And then in 1915, she followed her brother and a friend out to the foothills. This is so wild, the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, where she became a gold miner, the sole woman in a motley crew of men. And she worked there for more than three years to make ends meet. And when I mean work there, I mean, 600 feet below the surface of the earth, she was mining for gold, just to earn enough money to live with her and her son. And at night, after he was in bed, after she made sure that he was doing you know, whatever homework they could get their hands on to make sure his lessons were being completed, only then, talk about multitasking a side hustle, only then was she able to focus on her writing, which then she would submit at the local post office, to publishers from Boston to New York.

Yeah. Yeah. It's remarkable. And so you just mentioned her son. And so even though Elsie's dreams weren't to, you know, get married and have kids, having this son was so formative to her life and sort of everything that happened after that. So can we talk about sort of her as a mother and this relationship she has with her son and how hugely important it is in her life?

Oh, George was everything to her. She loved being a mom. They became so they became this like dynamic duo. Once she left her husband, his father, in 1912, it was just Elsie/ George George and Elsie, they became this incredible, dynamic team that helped each other through enormously challenging times. And George, I must say, he was chronically ill his entire life. He suffered from what we would now call asthma. It was called asthma then, but why I'm making that distinction is that now maybe we don't think of asthma as being something that could be exceptionally and easily fatal. Back then, without the use of common medicines that we would have today, they had inhalers, but let's say not steroids to use, he would turn blue. His limbs would get cold. There were times where he had coughing fits where she really thought her son was going to die in her arms. I mean, this was really tragic and scary. And you know, I'm a mom, I could imagine how this would be just absolutely crushing every day to fear the worst of your child, but in this town, the air was easier for him to breathe. And so part of her part of the tailwind that got her to go to the mines, which really seems so unbelievable, is that it was easier for him to breathe. And at the time, doctors were recommending a complete transplantation based on geography, that if you were suffering from asthma, pay attention to where you live. And it was advised to go seek a drier climate to ease the pain of these bronchial spasms. And so she not only went to find work, but she also went out of a mother's love to find a place where her son could have an easier time just taking a breath. 

Yeah. And then so much of her writing is informed by her relationship with George too, certainly all of her writing that is, is aimed at children, which is such a fascinating you know, she's a children's author. She's a columnist. She does breaking news, she does all of these sorts of things. But the the literature for children is sort of what helps her sort of break into the business.

Yes, well, isn't that what we're all told when you're breaking into writing is kind of write what you know. Yeah. So for her, to keep her son occupied on days where he was too sick to go to school, she would write him stories, these fantastical, wonderful, imaginative stories, and then she would also illustrate them. She was this incredible artist. She drew some of these incredible cartoons. You can see some of them in "Listen, World!" We include some of her beautiful illustrations in our biography of Elsie Robinson, so you can see her art for herself. But that's where that began is because she was entertaining George.

Kelly Therese Pollock  31:29  
Yeah, yeah. I love that. So you mentioned that you have in the book, her some of her drawings. You have a lot of her words, too. Could you talk about sort of that process of writing and figuring out when to tell the story, when to let her words come in?

Allison Gilbert  31:44  
Well, Julia, she was my co author and I were really certain that nobody was going to take the time to read, we estimated about 9000 columns, essays, articles, poems that Elsie created in her career. And so we thought how then can we share Elsie's amazing voice with readers? So throughout "Listen, World!" what we did was we braid, not only the author's voice throughout the biography, but Elsie's voice too. So it's not just one little quote here and there. We lean heavily on Elsie Robinson's own words, to tell her own story. And so we borrow from her own columns and her own poems. So she can inform the reader of how she was experiencing life herself. And a big reason why Julia and I decided to do that throughout "Listen, World!" is because too many times, and I'm sure you would agree, women have just been erased from history. And so for us as two women authors, to not let Elsie Robinson have her say, in her own biography about how she was interpreting, and living her own life just seemed like we would be contributing to a problem that we were actually trying to help solve by retelling her story and making sure that her legacy would be celebrated and endure.

Kelly Therese Pollock  33:29  
I also want to ask, you've written a lot about grief and the process of grieving and of course, that's really important in Elsie's life and in Elsie's writing. I wonder if you could reflect on that piece of it? That's sort of what brought you into Elsie's life in the first place was this poem about grief, you know, and what, I guess what we can sort of learn from Elsie and her writing about that, that process of grief.

Allison Gilbert  33:55  
She is one of the most strong writers about loss, and resilience, and moving forward after the death of a loved one that I've ever read. One poem in particular, besides the one we've already talked about, "Pain," is really instructive. It's called "I Build Happiness." And in this poem, and anyone can email me and I'll send it to you, really, Allison@AllisonGilbert.com, I'll send you this poem. It's really about how it's our responsibility to build our own sense of happiness after any form of adversity but here let's talk about grief. When we suffer a loss, many times we are the lucky recipients of support, and we're allowed to be passive when loss first happens. People, generally speaking, when a loss first occurs, is they show up for us. They send us texts, they may call, they may send us food, they come to a funeral, they may attend a Shiva or go to a wake. People, generally speaking, know what to do when a loss happens, which allows us to be passive recipients of support. What happens over time is that that loss support goes away. And we're left to ourselves to re-learn how to be happy. And so what Elsie Robinson talks about in this poem called "I Build Happiness," is the necessity of being proactive, the requirement of us to think about happiness and be deliberate about finding it again. And that's about putting one step in front of the other. It's about as she would say, make the toast, pour the coffee, put one step in front of the other, and soon, you will find that happiness again. But it takes work. It's a matter of identifying what brings you joy, and then being deliberate about finding it and creating it. And I feel like that's a really important message, and she nails it in that poem.

Kelly Therese Pollock  36:27  
Yeah, that's beautiful. I guess sort of my my final question is just kind of, we've talked a little bit about what what we can sort of get from Elsie for the current moment, but I think she had so much to say about sort of women realizing their worth and being paid the way they should, and getting the recognition that they should. So I wonder if you could just sort of reflect on that a little bit and sort of what what you take from Elsie.

Allison Gilbert  36:55  
Elsie was a badass. And I mean, that in the greatest sense. She had moxie, and she had grit. And she wanted to get everything she could out of life for herself for her son, but really wanted women in particular, to realize that it's okay to want more than being a wife. She had said something that's so clever, and I'm gonna butcher it. I don't have the quote exactly in front of me. But it's something like, why is it possible that men go on to be more than just husbands and that women, it's okay to want more than just being wives. And so she wasn't discounting that marriage is wonderful. And that being a mother is satisfying. She just wanted there to be a door to be cracked open, that it's okay to also want to have a sense of great fulfillment. And that's what she advocated for for herself, but that's what she wanted for women. I think that she was progressive in that sense. Well, before there was a Gloria Steinem, well before she was even born, Elsie Robinson was advocating for women to not only be equal, but to also live these rich, fulfilling lives and I find that to be incredibly empowering, instructive and inspiring, even today. The fact that it was started, this conversation, so long ago, is really quite exciting to me and to help resurrect Elsie Robinson is one of the first women to publicly and with such a vast platform across the country, advocate for that. I'm hoping, and I know my co-author,  too, Julia Sheeres is hoping, that with "Listen, World!" the first biography of Elsie Robinson, that we get to you know, plant the flag of Elsie Robinson so people can know about her, learn from her, and in "Listen, World!" be just excited to hear and read what she had to say on these topics, but so many others too.

Kelly Therese Pollock  39:32  
So tell everyone how they can get "Listen,World!"

Allison Gilbert  39:35  
Oh, it's available at any bookstore, online, anywhere where you would buy a book, you can get access to it and we are so happy to bring her story to a new generation of readers and to reintroduce her because she is just a dynamo.

Kelly Therese Pollock  39:54  
Yes, absolutely. Was there anything else that you wanted to make sure we talked about?

Allison Gilbert  40:00  
I am thrilled that we were able to have this conversation. I feel that too many women's stories have been erased. We have taken great pains to make sure that we can celebrate Elsie Robinson's life and bring her back to the fore. And I hope that people see in her a story worth remembering, and in addition, inspire other writers to come down the path to find other women who are equally deserving of their own biographies. That would be the greatest gift is that if this book can then bring light to other women's stories that have been similarly lost to history.

Kelly Therese Pollock  40:46  
Well, I was so excited to learn about her. So thank you for writing this book, and thank you for speaking with me today.

Allison Gilbert  40:53  
Thank you so much. It was a pleasure.

Teddy  40:57  
Thanks for listening to Unsung History. You can find the sources used for this episode @UnsungHistorypodcast.com. To the best of our knowledge, all audio and images used by Unsung History are in the public domain or are used with permission. You can find us on Twitter or Instagram @Unsung__History, or on Facebook @UnsungHistorypodcast. To contact us with questions or episode suggestions, please email Kelly@UnsungHistorypodcast.com. If you enjoyed this podcast, please rate and review and tell your friends.

 

Allison Gilbert Profile Photo

Allison Gilbert

Allison Gilbert is an award-winning journalist and co-author of Listen, World!, the first biography of American writer Elsie Robinson, a newspaper columnist who came from nothing and became the most-read woman in the country and highest-paid woman writer in the William Randolph Hearst media empire. The New York Times raves “One does not tire of spending time with Elsie Robinson” and the Wall Street Journal proclaims the book “an important contribution to women’s history.” Susan Orlean effuses the biography is “the rarest of things — a lively piece of unknown history, a marvelous story of a woman’s triumph, and a tremendous read.”

Gilbert is host of “Women Journalists of 9/11: Their Stories,” a 20-part documentary series produced in collaboration with the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. For this, she interviewed such luminaries as Savannah Guthrie, Maggie Haberman, Dana Bash, and Linda Wertheimer. She is co-executive producer of the companion 2-hour film that featured, among many others, Tom Brokaw, Rehema Ellis, Ann Thompson, Scott Pelley, Byron Pitts, Ann Compton, and Cynthia McFadden. Gilbert is the official narrator of the 9/11 Memorial Museum’s historical exhibition audio tour, the only female journalist to be so honored.

Allison Gilbert writes regularly for the New York Times and other publications. On her blog, she features Q & A’s with some of the most notable names in our culture today including, Arianna Huffington, Jon Stewart, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Dani Shapiro, and Gretchen Rubin.

Allison is co-editor of Covering Catastrophe: Broadcast Journalists Report September 11 and author of Always Too Soon: Voices of Support for Those Who Have Lost Both Parents, Parentless Parents: How the Loss of Our Mothers and Fathers Impacts the Way We Raise Our Children, and Passed and Present: Keeping Memories of Loved Ones Alive.

Gilbert lives in New York with her husband and two children.

Photo by Elena Seibert